Book Review: White Tears by Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru’s newest novel White Tears follows a couple privileged hipster college-educated white boys as they try to chase down, record and sell authentic black music from the dawn of the blues era. But what starts out as a snarky take on cultural appropriation and the current music scene in the U.S., ends up taking a dark turn down into the pits of American segregationist history.

For all of the beauty and fresh authentic sounds the American blues brings us, we forget why it’s called the “blues”. The stories, horrors and ghosts that gave birth to all the haunting words and rhythms were real. And it was bad.

Kunzru’s story zips back and forth through time, pulling on threads and connecting dots between the pain that birthed the blues, music laws, the 1960’s music industry and the “only vinyl will do” trends of the current decade.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book and the writing is solid. I wasn’t expecting the honest-to-goodness ghost story that crept up to help drive home the point of cultural appropriation and entitlement, but I have an appreciation for why and how Kunzru did this. Sometimes we just don’t know what we’re messing with and should just leave it alone.

It’s good to stop while reading this book and think about how the ideas are playing out “for real” in the story. It’s easy to forget the sting of all those ideas and themes, once the story starts chugging along and characters start dying and disappearing mysteriously.

I have to admit I’m a sucker for a well done all-type book cover and White Tears does look good (it’s another great one by the modern dust jacket master Peter Mendelsund) face out. Overall, I give White Tears a 3 out of 5 stars.